Laura Vukson, excerpt from
"Birthed Twice"

I stare at the rows of neatly packaged boxes of WonderBras—padded, push-up, sport, and maternity—in the Sears lingerie section.

“This is a good one. Full coverage and no wire,” my mom says. She pulls the bra out of the box under the fluorescent lights. Thick white straps and a flap—a nursing bra. It might as well be a parachute.

She grabs two more boxes. “Best to try on a few.”

“Sure, I’m going to look over here,” I mumble and walk a few feet away. My lacy black push-up digs into my rapidly expanding sides. I glance around quickly, then dig a sexy thong as thin as a piece of licorice out from between my butt cheeks. I’m seven months pregnant and still refusing to wear maternity clothes.

“Here, I got you these panties. I need a cart.” My mom’s voice rises with excitement. She holds out a three-pack of soft cotton, high-waisted underwear.

“Mom, these are grannie panties,” I croak. My belly is hard and itchy. I can hardly bear to think about the birth, the breastfeeding, the sleepless nights that loom ahead.

Baby gets stronger. A little miracle. Tiny feet kicking, bruising my ribs. My friend Zoe smiles across the table as the streetcars clang and shriek outside the hip cafe. In the distance, the downtown skyscrapers rise behind a snow-covered park. Zoe and I met fifteen years ago at a crusty bar on Dundas Street East. Small-town girls. We bonded immediately. Now, Zoe is a new mother, a therapist, and my doula. I trust her with my life—her solid presence, a lighthouse in the storm that is my pregnancy.

“I don’t think I want to breastfeed,” I say quietly. Everything is happening too fast.

Zoe takes a sip of coffee. “It’s okay. You don’t have to. Whatever you feel comfortable with,” she says. “Really. Can I show you this Instagram account that you can follow? It takes the fear away from birth and from the scary clinical world.” She hands me her phone.

Images of women clutching the hands of their doulas and nurses for support, sweat dripping off everyone’s faces. Awe and relief when the mothers hold their babies for the first time. Proud photos of scars and stretch marks. An exhausted mother with tears streaking her face cradles her infant with the caption, “This is hard.” What strikes me is the rawness of the photographs. Their unapologetic fierceness. Where is the fear?

“How did your mother give birth?” Zoe asks.

My mother, a Residential School survivor, was denied access to the more advanced “white man’s” hospital in Sioux Lookout because of her skin colour. Instead, she was forced to attend the infamous Indian Hospital in Sioux Lookout. Not long ago, I learned that this was one of the hospitals where the Canadian government was sterilizing Indigenous women after they gave birth—without their consent. This inhumane, criminal act stopped in 1978. My mother delivered her first child Julianna in 1980. She missed being sterilized by just two years.

“My mom gave birth naturally, no epidural. She said she barely made a sound—the Dene way.” I don’t know how to say that I’m scared of the health care system, and this is why I chose a midwife who works out of a birthing centre. But with no access to an epidural, which has to be administered by an anesthesiologist, I’m worried that the European side of me will scream bloody murder.

My mom, Zoe, and I follow the receptionist through the bright and spacious foyer of the Indigenous birthing centre. White ribbons dangle off the branches of a potted tree, a ribbon for each birth. Sweetgrass, sage, and tobacco line a shelf in the sitting room. One of the birth rooms has a gigantic tub, walk-in shower, TV, fireplace, and a queen-size bed. A woman moans in the next room. I wonder if I’ll have time to get to a hospital if something goes wrong here.

At the end of the tour, my mom squeezes my arm and whispers, “Laura, this is unbelievable. I’m so happy that this is here for you.”

I feel deep shame, and I don’t know why.

Many summers ago, my dad, who is of Serbian, Irish, and Scottish descent, holds my hand as I skip down a dirt road in northern Ontario. An old mining town where the sun refuses to give in to the night and where blackflies swarm. My dad wears bell-bottoms and a shirt with a wide collar. His hair is dark and curly, and his handsome face is smiling. At the grocery store, a manager rushes to shake my dad’s hand and gives me a salty Hot Rod. Hugging my dad’s legs, I feel my heart flutter with pride.

When I am in this same store with my mother, eyes follow us up and down the aisles. There are no Hot Rods handed out for free. My mother’s skin is brown. She keeps her head down and always takes two steps back when strangers approach us. I fear people will treat me like they do my mother. Our skin is the same colour. 




From The Malahat Review's winter issue #217